‘And I win!! Cooper celebrated as he raced his twin sister and her giggling friends to the last water lily. Chichi hated it when Cooper turned into a big show off. She loved him sure but why does he have to be the star everywhere. Why can’t she have a quiet afternoon without her girlfriends drooling over Cooper. She loved the cool pond in a hot afternoon. It was her favourite spot in the entire forest. Cooper was such a show off- pretending to know everything in the forest. Her train of thought was broken when her antennae swayed against a strong breeze. Cooper was set to race again.

Oz stopped to catch a breath. It had been a difficult climb. His last meal had long been assimilated in the last lap of his climb. He longed to rest and eat the remaining parts of the dead doe he carried on his back. With experience, he had now learnt to hold on to a meat till he procures a new one. The sun had begun waving a farewell through its orange red hue. ‘This isn’t good.’ Oz thought to himself. He had to reach the forest before dark. He feared the dark. So did all his people. The worst things always happened to his people at night- like the time when a panther had taken away the chieftain’s little on . Oz shivered a little at the prospect of the dusk. Fear ushered in a new strength into his limbs. He adjusted the tree bark round his waist, heaved  the dead animal up his shoulder and limped his way towards the forest on his stick. He needed water.

‘‘Cooper get out of water. A pariah has entered forest. Let’s shadow him.’’ Coopers mother Nina shouted in her shrill voice. Cooper always hated when she disturbed in the middle of a game. Cooper had just hooped his first water lily and was already leading. Making a sour face Cooper caught hold of Chichi and rushed as fast as his little wings could carry him. Before Chichi could kick up a fuss, Nina spread her flaming red wings and crossed her antennae. Nina was the front line of the spy network of the forest. Taking care of two naughty butterflies would soon cause greying of her wings. Cooper fluttered with glee. He loved it when his mother crossed her antennae at someone other than him for a change. The forest had always proved fascinating for Cooper. It harboured so many creatures. Creatures that flew, ran and swam in the river. Some pranced around throughout the day while the more vicious ones lurked after dark. Cooper knew almost all of them. But this creature hiding in the shrubbery looked strange even to cooper. Why was this creature spying on the bipeds. Since cooper remembered the bipeds had thrived amicably in the forest with other creatures. Cooper loved them especially the biped foals. He loved fluttering around them as the foals toddled to catch him. 

‘Ma who is that in the shrubbery?’ Cooper could no longer refrain himself from asking.

Oz took his own time inspecting the creatures as he hid in the shrubbery. They looked like his people, only a bit stockier. They had shorter limbs though they walked erect like his people. These creatures had a large torso and flat nose.  Leila the wise woman of his tribe had described them to perfection. But then Leila was never wrong. The stars spoke to her. Oz could never understand how she understood what they said. Maybe because she was the wise woman but then weren’t all women wise???Oz hid himself deeper into the foliage and continued to think. He felt tap on the shoulder and reflexively swung into defence. Still clutching to his half eaten doe he pointed his stick at the stocky flat nosed biped that stood in front of him .Oz made a quick observation. The biped wore sheepskin which looked considerably warmer than his skimpy tree bark. He carried a strange staff with a piece of sharpened rock tied to the end with vines. Leila had said they would be harmless but Oz couldn’t be sure. In his forest he had seen foals being carried away by river current though it had allowed them to drink its water. No entity was ever completely selfless.

‘ You know you are selfish. You are always blocking my view with spread wings’ Chichi fluttered around Cooper. Cooper looked at Nina in anticipation. This bickering of Chichi’s was worth reprimand. However Nina looked sullen. She remembered the wise forest nymph’s prophecy- a traveller from yonder hills will unleash a demon that kills. She shushed her babies. Cooper sensed something wrong. He decided to keep shadowing this strange creature even after dusk. If Ma felt something wrong, he was certain of it.

The native biped signalled Oz to follow him. Oz followed but continued to point his stick at its back. The biped led him to clearing. Many more stocky bipeds male and female now surrounded Cooper. Oz was scared. The clearing area was not so dark. It had a yellow orange hue unlike anything Oz had ever seen. Some yellow orange abstract looking structure danced in the middle of the clearing. This was scary. The strange biped Oz had followed now shooed the others away in a strange tongue and beckoned Oz to sit on the nearby rock. ‘This must be the chieftain’ Oz obeyed. A woman brought him some meat on a leaf. Oz sniffed. It smelt different. He prodded it with his finger, no blood squirted out. It was softer and tender than the meat he had at home. He took a tiny bite; it tasted better. Oz was pleased. He could sense lack of hostility on the strangers’ part. Graciously, Oz offered the woman his half eaten raw doe. The woman closed her eyes in horror and signalled from the doe to another woman of the clan who was carrying a child. The biped it seemed refused to eat animals with young ones in womb. Oz understood the context but could not comprehend the sentiment behind it. 

‘Quick. The wise nymph needs to be informed. This creature is vicious.’ Nina had formed her opinion. 

‘How do we know that mother.’ Chichi fluttered in excitement.

‘No creature kills and eats an expecting mother. Even the bipeds have followed this law of jungle.’ This creature is bad omen

Cooper was now scared but he couldn’t cry, atleast not before Chichi. He gave Nina an understanding bow with his antlers. ‘ Any suspicious move from the pariah, Giving her both offsprings a light brush of her wings, Nina began her long journey westwards – to the abode of the wise nymph. Cooper perched himself on a branch and threw Oz an inquisitive glance.

Oz had always being an inquisitive lad of his tribe that lived in the forest on the other side of the mountains. Originally harbouring a large population his tribe had dwindled by the cold winters and the attacks of nocturnal beings. Leila had told him the solution lay with their ‘cousins’ – a different species that lived beyond the large mountains . She had described them as friendly wise beings built very similar to them structurally but out of the two species, one was destined to die out after being devoured by the devil’s multiple vicious tongues. Oz had taken it upon himself to find these cousins for the solution to save his dying clan and so here he was with their cousin species staring into the abstract light that danced in the middle of the clearing. Slowly he rose and approached the light. In its mere proximity Oz felt a friendly warmth. Curiosity took better of him and he reached out to touch the light and howled in pain. ‘just like the river and foal’ Oz made a mental note. Get too close, you perish. Oz now began prodding it with his stick. Within moments it went ablaze. Oz screeched and threw away the stick. The foals of the strange biped broke into peals of laughter. The laughter did not go well with Oz and he proceeded to throw a handful of soil at the blazing light. A tribesman stopped him. ‘It would die out’ he signalled. A couple of women  proceeded to throw chunks of meat into the light and a delicious aroma filled the air. Oz recognised it from the meat he had previously consumed and gave a thin smile. He had found the solution Leila had talked about. 

Chichi gave out a chuckle as she observed Oz and his shenanigans. Cooper threw her an annoying glance. Over the next few days Cooper closely observed as Oz fraternized with the bipeds. They hunted together with the help of wooden staffs with sharp rocks tied at one end . The bipeds taught  Oz roasting meat on the blazing light which Cooper now knew was called- fire

Oz had gathered that the beasts of the dark never approached when fire was around and that it could be put out by water or soil.  On the other hand this fire grew stronger when fed dried twigs and leaves. But one question still remained unanswered – how to carry it to his tribe; the chieftain of the tribe always brought it from within his cave for it was the tribe’s coveted secret. The answer came to him one particularly windy night. It was hours after dark and the entire tribe slept together in the cave. The fire at the entrance gave out. Ozlay in wait, feigning sleep. The chieftain woke up, looked around ensuring Oz was asleep. He pulled out two white rocks, struck them together on the pile of dried twigs and lo behold! The fire appeared. Oz was both astonished and pleased. He now knew everything he needed. 

Cooper lay awake on the eucalyptus spying on Oz. Chichi had long drifted to sleep. Nina hadn’t returned yet. Cooper was very afraid for Nina but even more for himself and Chichi. He knew he couldn’t laze around. His mother counted on him. Suddenly he heard a movement. Cooper alerted his antennae. He saw Oz leave the cave with a stout stick of fire followed by an inquisitive biped foal.  His innocent eyes asked Oz a billion questions. Oz paused. A chill ran through Cooper’s spine. He must find Master Eagle so that he could find his mother. He saw Oz give a meaningful glance at the stout burning stick in his hand. Oz had made up his mind. He threw away the stout blazing twig into nearby dry bushes setting them ablaze. The foal screeched and ran back to alert the elders. As the fire began devouring the entire shrubbery around the clearing Oz ran in direction of the mountain. Cooper sensed footsteps approaching. He must find Master eagle……..

Oz looked at the lit up sky from the mountains. He scrubbed his feet over a rock to remove a dead butterfly he had accidently stepped upon. Taking one last look at the ‘devil’s multiple tongues that devoured all’ Oz began his journey homewards happy at having fulfilled the destiny.

Eons later the remains of his ‘cousins’ would be found by Oz’s descendants. They will blame everything and everyone – from genetics to a play of nature. No Cooper will be alive to tell their story. They will call themselves ‘Homo sapiens’ or the ‘wise men’ but will be ignorant of the unwise selfishness of their ancestor. Like Oz, they would set forests ablaze, oblivious to the pains of millions  and at the end celebrate the fact of being the only human species fittest to survive evolution. Ironically they would also theorize if someone of their own kind travelled back in time and stepped over a ‘butterfly’ changing the course of existence. But for these ‘wise men’ Cooper will just be another story starting with- ‘ once upon a time’


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This is an entry for #InnsWoods, #Artales18, A Room8 writing event. Checkout the event guidelines here:  https://artoonsinn.com/artales18
The event is sponsored by Manoj Paprikar, Author of Death at Midnight by ArtoonsInn room9 publications. Manoj Paprikar is a doctor by profession and a writer at heart. Through his latest venture with room9publications, he earnestly brings forth the plight of the medical profession that affects both the healthcare providers and patients at large.
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